FACING ADVERSITY: RUNNER versus FIGHTER
Which are you?
Have you ever run from a complex or painful situation when you were unsure of the direction that would bring you peace? Have you run for safety, security, for money, or to avoid an uncertain consequence? Has your heart ever been so broken that you ran aimlessly, not really weighing the consequences or having a clear plan? Did the success of your long-term solution hinge on one person, one situation, one job, or even one income?
Many of us have been runners at some point in our lives. Some have made it a marathon sport. While running for fitness is an admirable thing, running in other areas of your life is not. Just as runners in a competitive event are categorized by age, those who run in the face of adversity are not specific to a particular age group.
This is the story of two such runners and the way each dealt with adversity.
In the late 1970’s, I was married with 2 small children, ages 4 and 5. My life was that of a stay at home mom. My husband worked and his income afforded our family with the bare necessities of what we needed for survival. We weren’t financially secure, but he had one of the more reliable jobs in the area where we lived. We survived from paycheck to paycheck in meager housing and struggled to make ends meet and raise our two children.
My life though not ideal, was soon to take me on a journey down many paths, causing me to understand “fight or flight” from a whole new perspective. Within a span of 8 years, I lost my mother, gave birth to two children, survived post partum depression, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, had a hysterectomy, learned of my husband’s infidelity with my best friend, went through a divorce, lost my maternal grandmother, and moved 3 times. Finally, I recognized my own futility and faced the negative future on my current path. Poverty, a defeated spirit and loss of personal pride would be my destinations. I didn’t like what I saw because I realized it would not only impact me, but also on my children and generations after me. Exhausted trying to escape my problems, I finally stopped running, started planning, and began building the future I wanted. My first major step was to enroll in college.
As I surveyed the carnage of the years behind me, I remember experiencing mixed emotions of despair, fear, resentment, grief and abandonment as I cared for a dying mother at a time when I should have being expectantly joyful over the birth of my daughter. I had never been taught how to care for an infant; I didn’t know how to be a mother. My mother was supposed to teach me and now she was gone. Post partum depression left me feeling as though I was losing my mind and fearful of my own behavior as a new mother. I suffered in silence, afraid to seek medical help in a small community where everybody knows your business (and gossips about it). It had been 6 – 9 months before I finally recovered on my own. Eighteen months later, I had given birth to my son and was fully in the role of stay-at-home-mom, wife and homemaker.
The diagnosis of cancer had caught me off guard with 2 preschool-aged children and caused me to face my own mortality with fear and (eventually) courage.
I remember that day 38 years like it was yesterday. I had gone for my annual GYN appointment and cancer screening the day before Thanksgiving 1976. No big deal. It was January 1977 when I got a finally got a phone call one snowy day asking me to come back to the doctor’s office to discuss my test results. That was puzzling, I remember thinking. Why couldn’t they just tell me the results over the phone?
So I talked to my closest friends. No big deal they agreed. Some of them had had to have repeat PAP tests and everything turned out okay. They were sure that was it, so no need to worry. Their encouragement convinced me there was nothing to worry about. Still, I had my husband drive me over those treacherously slick roads to the follow up doctor’s appointment. I was prepared to hear I needed a repeat PAP test. Instead I was ushered to the doctor’s office where he sat behind a giant chart-laden desk with my test results in my hands. “You actually have pre-cancer cells.” He told me. “Your PAP test came back Stage IV. We need to see how far it has spread. If you don’t have a hysterectomy, it will turn in to cancer. We need to schedule you in the operating room for a cone biopsy.”
‘I don’t understand. Last year my PAP test was normal. How did this happen? Couldn’t it be a mistake? Can’t you just do another PAP test and just see if it comes back okay?’ I had asked.
“No” was his frank and abrupt response.
On my ride home that day, I was a bundle of emotion. At one point I turned, through tears, and asked my husband “What am I going to do?”
His simple reply was “Take it like a woman.” It was very clear from that point that this was a very personal battle I was going to face on my own.
Late one night in the interim between the diagnosis and the scheduled surgery, I had been in bed asleep when I heard the telephone ring beside my head. I was slow to awaken, but aware of my husband answering the phone and starting to whisper to the caller on the other end. He took the phone into the next room and continued talking in low tones. By this time, I was fully awake. There was apparently no family emergency and this conversation was making no sense as I heard him say, “I can’t tonight. Maybe next weekend.” It was then that it became apparent that there was a female caller on the other end. That’s when I first learned of my husband’s infidelity, but I didn’t know who she was, nor would he tell me despite my confrontation with him after the call ended.
Trusting by nature, I had always given people the benefit of the doubt. I never distrusted someone unless they first gave me cause to distrust. The shock of my husband’s infidelity with met with disbelief. Not only had he betrayed me, but also his timing was terrible.
I learned about the power of prayer the day my surgeon bowed his head in the operating room and said a prayer for me as I was dozing off to anesthetized sleep. He didn’t even know I heard him praying on my behalf that morning in the operating room, but God heard him. It was then that I knew God had a purpose and a plan for my life. It was up to me to either try and figure out what that plan was or allow God to show me.
When the surgeon had emerged from the operating room to speak to my family, there had not been a single member of my family there to receive the news. Was I really that insignificant to the people who were supposed to love and support me?
Two more years would pass, but instead of reconciliation, our marital discord got worse as my husband continued his pattern of infidelity. There were no more late night phone calls, but there were many stories that didn’t fit as the lies continued.
The big “reveal” of the mystery mistress came when my best friend left her husband the very same night my husband didn’t come home from our son’s kindergarten graduation. I won’t detail the events that led me to the realization of her identity. Some things are better left unsaid and unwritten. After 3 days of near non-stop shedding of tears, I was compelled to see her and to talk to her face to face. Understandably, she was reluctant to face me. When we met, there was no hostility or angry words between us.
Her wake-up call in the relationship was that my husband actually wanted her to abandon her preschool-aged son so there would be no children to burden them as they began their lives together. Thankfully she chose not to abandon her child and was appalled at the true heart of the man she thought was her “love of a lifetime.“ Reconciliation with her husband was not easy; he felt as deceived as I did.
The first “runner” I ever knew was my own husband. He ran from the drama he had created, and the lives he had destroyed, leaving his wife and children to survive the gale force winds of survival alone. He ran as a guilty man, lacking the courage to face the consequences of his own actions. I have no respect for that, and even less for a man who doesn’t provide for his own children.
The second “runner” I came to realize was myself. I couldn’t bear to face the insecurity of being jobless and dependent on my (soon to be ex) husband to meet his financial obligations to his children and to honor the debts he promised to pay. I couldn’t face the wrath of the scorned husband next door who actually strung up a barbed wire fence separating our property lines, holding my children and me responsible, and punishing us for wrath he felt toward my husband. Our children, who had once been daily playmates, were forbidden to be together. The three of us were a visual reminder of a painful situation he wanted so much to forget.
My reason for running was that there were just too many stressors to cope with all at once and there were no easy answers. I had no real plan for how my children and I were to survive this crisis. For a season of 4 months, I “ran.” I was searching for a fresh start, a new beginning, and a “happy-ever-after” ending. As in the movie Forest Gump, I ran and I ran. I ran first to Knoxville, TN, then to Covington, KY. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I didn’t like the view looking back over my own shoulders.
Then one day, just as suddenly as I began, I just stopped running. I stopped running, started facing my challenges, rolled up my sleeves and began to build my future one day at a time. There were days I wondered whether my life was worth it. It was on those days that my children were my anchors. Falling down was something I have done many times, but I have never stayed down. I have always gotten back up. Through this, I grew in strength and all the while, my children were watching. I wanted so much to be the dependable parent they could be proud of and to teach them how to be courageous, successful adults.
Thirty-six years later, hindsight truly is 20/20. I’m glad the man who truly didn’t love me ran. His running freed me from a lifetime commitment to a marriage that never should have happened at age 16 to a man I did not choose, but was instead chosen for me by my parents. (But that’s another story altogether). If you’re a stay-at-home mom or living in a bad situation, I hope my story gives you the courage to stand firm, stop running and begin to discover God’s plan for your life. Stop running and start building your own future instead of watching the minutes of your life tick away without a purpose or a plan.
Pick up whatever pieces have been strewn along the pathway of your life and build (or rebuild) something incredible with what you’ve been given (or what you have left). Build a bridge to the future for others who follow after you. Stop running, refuse to be a victim of your past, and leave a legacy of courage and strength.
This poem of inspiration was given to me by Claude H. Brown, a former college professor at Pikeville College. A man with daughters of his own, he was my biggest cheerleader as he saw me struggle to obtain the resources to provide for my family while attending college as a full time student. This blog is dedicated to his memory.
THE BRIDGE BUILDER
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Source: Father: An Anthology of Verse (EP Dutton & Company, 1931)
If you liked this story, you might also enjoy: From Humbling Beginnings: A Journey From the Bottom Rung of the Ladder
Posted in Mindset by Pam Baker-Redman with 2 comments.